I remember as a kid, my grandmother always had prune juice in the fridge. So throughout my life, I always associated prune juice with old people. And also for… you know…when you need a little extra help. In 2001, the California Prune Board pressured the Food and Drug Administration to change the name of prunes to the more pleasant sounding dried plums. (Prune juice is still called prune juice because, well…dried plum juice?)
For some of us, a prune is still a prune. Except in Italy where it is called the more melodic sounding prugna, which is also the same word for plum. (See – you just learned two Italian words).
For our recent cookbook club “meeting”, the chosen book was Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy, by Lidia Bastianich. I’m a huge fan of Lidia’s as she’s one of the few who speaks to me as someone who cooks with authenticity and love. Reading any of her cookbooks or watching her on tv makes me feel like I’m sitting in the kitchen with her.
I honestly can’t tell you what caught my eye about this recipe, because there wasn’t an Instagram-like picture (in fact, there wasn’t a photo at all) and the title, Torta with Prunes, isn’t exactly inviting. Maybe the ingredient of “one cup of red wine” jumped out at me. Or perhaps it was Lidia’s vivid description of “golden, buttery cake.” Whatever it was, I’m so happy I baked this gem of a prune cake.
A warm piece of Torta alla Prugne in the morning with a cup of hot coffee and my day is off to a great start. Whether you decide to use prunes, dried plums or prugne in this well thought out recipe, the cake is a treat for breakfast, tea or a holiday brunch.
- 1¼ c. (about 7 oz) soft pitted prunes
- 1 c. plus1 T. sugar
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 c. red wine
- 12 T. (1½ sticks) butter, room temperature
- 1 T. fine dry bread crumbs
- 1 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 4 large eggs, separated
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Cut the prunes into bite-sized pieces. In a small saucepan, put the prunes, ⅓ c. sugar, lemon zest and wine.
- Over medium low heat bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cook for about 15 minutes until it has thickened and syrup barely covers the poached prunes.
- Let the prunes cook completely. When cool, drain through a sieve, collecting the syrup, about ¼ cup. (This can be done ahead of time, but make sure to drain the plums well).
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease the inside of a 9" springform pan with 1 T. of soft butter. Stir the breadcrumbs and 1 T. of sugar together. Coat the buttered pan with the bread crumb mixture; shake out excess crumbs.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
- In the bowl of a mixer, cream the remaining sugar and butter for several minutes on high speed, scraping down the bowl a few times, until light and smooth.
- Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Scrape down the bowl and fluff up the batter on high speed after each egg yolk.
- On low speed add the dry ingredients, mixing just until completely moistened and incorporated.
- In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt to firm peaks. Stir a third of the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold in the remainder.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
- Scatter the drained prune pieces evenly over the top of the batter, covering the whole cake.
- Bake about 45 minutes until top is golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. Remove and cool on wire rack.
- Drizzle the remaining wine syrup over the top of the warm cake. Let cool ½ hour. Remove cake from pan.
- Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.